Szplug's Reviews > The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
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Jun 27, 11


Greene's eminently readable attempt to explain the possibilities for string/superstrings to provide the linchpin for the long-awaited-and-desired merger of gravity with the two nuclear and electromagnetic forces into a Grand United Theory. Frankly, the entire idea of rolled up dimensions—of a universe containing perhaps ten, twelve, eighteen dimensions, of which we are only capable of perceiving four—is suitably mind-blowing and humbling at the same time; and although Greene's low-culture themed analogies that frequently pop-up to help elucidate the complex concepts he is trying to convey may irritate at times, he does a bang-up job in making it understandable without blotting the outlines in thick physiquese or mathematics. Surfer-Dude physicist Garrett Lisi submitted an Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything based upon the stunningly beautiful symmetry of Lie Groups as an alternative to String Theory a couple of years after the publication of Greene's follow-up The Fabric of the Cosmos ; it will be interesting to see how Lisi's proposal affects the future of string/superstring theory as the most likely path towards that elusive group-wedding of the four forces. I believe that several physicists have now concluded that Lisi's theory doesn't hold up, but I'm intrigued by the rumblings I've encountered by others who consider string theory to be a corridor that is proving of a confining narrowness, one that has consumed a disproportionate amount of the energy from some of the top minds in this field in pursuit of a theory that more and more appears irreconcilably inelegant and complex for the unifying end that it is meant to achieve. I have some potentially stunning books on the shelf awaiting my attention—in particular, Lisa Randall's Warped Passages , Michio Kaku's Hyperspace , Michael Fayer's Absolutely Small , and Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics —all of which I have unfortunately neglected for some time now, but are ripe with the promise of immense rewards to the mind when their contents are finally consumed.

Personally, one of the most stimulating moments in the The Elegant Universe was Greene's articulation of how we, as humans, are travelling through time at the speed of light; thus tickling my brain with the thought that light—immune to the mundane effects of forward-marching time—is a bridge towards an omnipotent godhead. If light is moving at the speed of light through space—not time—is it possible that its entire permutation from Big Bang through to Cosmic Deflation would be accessible in a single given moment of time, i.e, if some manner of consciousness—not necessarily as we conceive of it—was to exist at that level of configuration, would the entirety of past, present, and future—the ticking tenure that provides the structural frame for the playing out of human existence—be available? At temporal lightspeed, can any photon wave/particle duality be positionally known within Space-Time as it cannot to our Time-delimited minds? Would access to this particular modular level of existence—as alien as it may be to comprehend—be the beginnings of omniscience and the hierarchical understanding of how the universe plays out/was meant to play out/will play out? As an object approaches the speed of light, its mass becomes infinite—would the same exponential assault waylay ever-present light as it approaches the speed of time? Would fulgent awareness become infinitely sluggish or limited as it neared this clock-marked barrier? From the—for lack of a better word—point of view of Lightspeed, would there exist differing quantum pathways that wend throughout the four perceivable dimensions, and from a high enough level, will they appear identical at select points of chronological evolution? Thanks Brian, for zapping me like you did into further confused wonder.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins I don't know about our bodies but our minds already travel at the speed of light. I use as evidence your review.


message 2: by Szplug (last edited Jun 27, 2011 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Szplug Thanks, Eddie. I can't be certain that I'm not pursuing a blind alley here, in that perhaps I'm misunderstanding what Greene means with this particular statement, but a little temporal-spatial speculation never hurt anybody, right? :)

All these revelations inevitably seem to end up at the edge of infinity, at how the infinite refuses to allow us to neatly formulate and formalize the universe within a systemic totality—invariably the infinite will blur our vision, shake our steadiness, bend our straight lines, spike our drink, and morph truth into paradox. For me it is amongst the most fascinating of the enigmas this cosmos perpetually reveals to reward our valiant efforts to comprehend it.


Szplug Hi Michael. It was a while ago that I read this book, so I'm afraid I can't quite place what you are describing—with that said, I'm glad you liked it!


message 4: by Rob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob Well said.


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